Two landmark pizzerias in Lower Northeast Philadelphia are moving on.
Tony’s Famous Tomato Pies, a corner bar on Sackett Street just off Frankford Avenue in Mayfair since 1951, shut down about two weeks ago. The original Charlie’s Pizzeria’s location on Roosevelt Boulevard near Adams Avenue, open since the mid-1950s, will wrap up operations on Sunday, May 1.
Vestiges of both businesses remain. There’s a separately owned Tony’s Place in Ivyland, Bucks County, run by the original family, and the Vittorelli family has another Charlie’s Pizzeria in the Far Northeast.
Tony’s Famous Tomato Pies
Info surrounding Tony’s closing is hard to come by. The bar’s phone has been disconnected, and its Instagram posts now oddly refer to pro wrestling after several weeks of announcing sporadic closings.
Tony’s traces its roots to Tony and Dominic Mallamaci’s corner bar at 10th and Jackson Streets in South Philadelphia, which opened in the 1940s and moved to Mayfair in 1951. Dominic’s son Joe expanded Tony’s next door in 1980. In 2006, his son Joe Jr., now the third generation, opened Tony’s Place, a much nicer offshoot, in Ivyland.
In 2016, Joe Sr. sold the Mayfair location to entrepreneurs Dan Murphy, Roy Rutter, and Henry Booth. They kept the sports bar feel, the thin-crust tomato pie, the wings, and the solid beer list intact.
The Mallamacis’ Ivyland location is still going strong.
Erminio “Charlie” Yacovetti and his wife, Mary, started selling pizza out of their rowhouse on Rising Sun Avenue near Temple University Hospital in North Philadelphia in 1946.
In 1959, three of the couple’s children — Viola (with husband Vince Rota), Angelo Yacovetti (with wife Margaret), and Lucy (with husband Bill Rieger) — opened what became the better-known Charlie’s, in a free-standing building at 4300 Roosevelt Blvd. on the Olney-Crescentville line. Charlie’s was in the shadow of Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s store and catalog-distribution center, topped with a 14-story clock tower, which was imploded in 1994; only its smoke stack remains as part of the shopping center that replaced it.
For years, Charlie’s also stood next to a Howard Johnson’s (a popular stop for a post-pizza dessert) and Great Wall, one of the area’s earliest Chinese restaurants. Both are now gone.
Charlie’s is done up in the classic Northeast pizzeria motif: wood-paneled walls, drop ceiling, laminate counters, an Elmo doll wearing an apron while holding a pizza at the front door, cash only, no slices. “For a real delite try it white,” reads the menu board. Charlie’s thin-crust pies are built with a layer of sliced mozzarella with the sauce on top.
Last year, Don Vittorelli Jr., a great-grandson of Bill and Lucy Rieger, opened a Charlie’s in Morrell Plaza on Frankford Avenue in the Far Northeast. The closing of the Boulevard location was “inevitable,” Vittorelli said. Mechanicals are failing. “My sister and I felt it was not feasible to keep it running. It didn’t make sense.”
As a kid in the 1960s, I thought the “P-I” in Charlie’s phone number — it was PIoneer 4-3249 — stood for “PIzza.” Facebook is full of commenters lamenting the closing, sharing memories, and vowing to stop in for their last pizzas before Sunday’s finale.
Charlie’s shares lineage with Vince’s Pizzeria, another Northeast pizza stalwart. In 1988, the Rota children opened Vince’s on Grant Avenue just east of the Boulevard, which begat Vince’s locations in Newtown, Bucks County, and Fishtown.
On the good-news-about-Northeast-Philadelphia front: Joseph’s Pizza in Fox Chase, which closed last year after a sale, is expected to reopen in May.